NM monsoons strong, but drought lingers

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — For a few hours, the Rio Grande was grand again.

But weather officials say despite the fierce storm that hit Albuquerque with hurricane-force winds and pounding rains over the weekend, New Mexico's drought is far from over.

"It's making a little dent in places," National Weather Service meteorologist Chuck Jones said Monday of the steady stream of afternoon storms across the state this month. "But this is something that developed over several years ... and it will take several years for the state to recover, assuming we get normal or above normal monsoons."

The good news, he says, is that since the traditional July start of the afternoon and evening rains, much of the state has seen above normal activity. And that is expected to continue across many areas of New Mexico through the end of September.

The state has seen some real doozies this year. Last month, a storm dumped more than a foot of hail on Santa Rosa, stranding some motorists in wintry white drifts that had accumulated on the streets within about 20 minutes.

Friday evening, one of the most dramatic storms to ever hit Albuquerque gave some landlocked desert residents a taste of hurricane-like conditions with wind gusts of 89 mph in some places and rain that felled trees and power lines across the city and floated cars in flooded streets and intersections. More than 1,000 people remained without power Monday, according to PNM.

The city estimated its cost of cleanup and emergency services related to the storm would top $1 million.

The National Weather Service reports that a record rainfall of 1.36 inches was set in the city on Friday, breaking the old record of 0.85 inches set in 1939.

The next morning, the drying-up Rio Grande looked a bit like its old self, at least temporarily. On Saturday morning, officials reported the river was running at levels not seen since 2010. The rush of waters from storms across northern New Mexico quickly slowed.

For the month of July, Jones said, Albuquerque has officially recorded 2.79 inches so far, an inch and a quarter above average.

"But to put an asterisk on this," Jones said. "While it may make a dent in the meteorological drought," Albuquerque is still 10 to 12 inches below normal for the last three years.

"Normal precipitation for an entire year is 9.44 inches," he said. "So we are missing a year's precipitation somewhere in the last three years."